I made a huge mistake last year that lost me some sleep and led to a lot of stress, but ended up being an object lesson in what I talk about at conferences and what I tell my coaching clients every day. The story begins in December of 2013.
The Status Quo
Prior to 12 of 13, I had a real rhythm to my work. I would write content for various clients, enough to make between 4 and 5 thousand a month working between 4 and 5 hours a day. Every week I’d put in bids, queries and applications for other work. As one project wrapped up, another would come in. Some weeks were busy, and some were light, but over the long term I’d spent the past four years averaging a decent living.
Then came the phone call…a buzz from a client who had been high-maintenance but not entirely offensive. He wanted me to write a book for him, and was going to pay me $7,000 a month to do it. Two more calls from slightly less demanding ghostwriting clients hit me about the same time and I took all three.
Going with a high-maintenance client wasn’t the mistake. Neither was taking on the other two projects. I had the cycles to manage all of them, even if it did cut down on some of my recreation time. The mistake was in my negative space.
The Big Crunch
In June I had to fire the high-maintenance client. He’s a good enough guy, but had been late paying one too many times and he hadn’t been 100% honest with me about some realities of the project. He also had some unique and innovative approaches to the concept of personal boundaries. Come July, the other two clients slowed down their revisions on my work.
When you do ghostwriting, your pay is tied to revisions. You turn in a first draft and get paid, then you turn in a revised draft and get paid again. If your client gets behind schedule on reading the first draft, you’re stuck waiting for the paycheck on the revised draft. This wouldn’t have been an issue except…
The Big Mistake
My problem for the first half of 2014 wasn’t the workload. My problem was what the workload didn’t let me do. I no longer had the hours, or the energy, to keep putting in queries and applications and bids. When the work all dried up that summer, I had zero income and zero immediate prospects.
Keep in mind this all happened at the same time I was moving my family to Malaysia and paying approximately $10,000 to get them enrolled at an expatriate school. The situation had a definite sphincter factor of 6 on a scale of 7.
The Big Push
After a few days of complete panic, I got to work. I spruced up my web page (which had fallen into disrepair and even managed to catch a virus), updated my resume and got the hell to work. Eight hours a day, every week day, of applying, pitching and bidding. I hit up my network. I reached out to old clients. I cruised job boards. I took some chances on some sketchy clients and was reminded why you never work for somebody unwilling to pay a decent wage. I cranked and I pushed and I applied and I got resourceful. And in the end…
The Big Finish
Starting in December (three months after everything imploded) I had $4,000 a month of work booked. That work consists of:
- 2 gigs booked by answering calls on professional job boards worth a total of $2,000
- 1 gig I got off of Craigslist worth $800
- 2 gigs from my personal network worth a total of $700
- 3 gigs from querying directly to publishers, worth about $500 on average
From zero to professional in three months. It can happen. I realize I cheated a bit by already having a lot of clips and a solid resume, but this goes to show that it doesn’t take very long to score full-time work as a writer if you really nose that grindstone.
The Big Deal
The biggest thing my coaching clients and the doubters in my audience bring up as an objection is they don’t believe they can make it happen in a tight timeline. This story might have been accelerated by my experience, but if I can do it in 3 months most people can do it in 12. You just have to do the following without fail:
- Have a good resume and several clips, where you can find them easily, on your computer
- Treat looking for work as a full-time (8 hours a day) job until you’ve found enough work
- Search tirelessly for open jobs and know where to look for them, even when it means shelling out $100 or so for access
- Look for regular gigs – jobs that pay you to write a few times per week, even if it pays less money per item as the one-off assignments
- Go back to the well by reaching out to previous clients, and even prospects who previously said “no.”
- Set metrics based on what you can control (i.e. number of applications, not number of assignments landed), then absolutely keep your commitments about making those metrics.
- Don’t give up and don’t be afraid. Rejection doesn’t harm, even if it does hurt a little.
So that’s how the last quarter of 2014 went for me. How was yours?
Blatant marketing moment: many of these concepts are spelled out in my best-selling ebook Mastering the Business of Writing published by TKC of Hawaii. If you haven’t checked it out, I’m told it’s pretty good. You can click the image there to the right, or sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send you a copy for free.